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PEDAGOGICAL FORAY: INTRODUCING A SPEAKER

Ramon Plo, John Swales, Sheryl Leicher


The extracts in this foray consist of the opening remarks in the “Public Math
Colloquium” (COL385MU054) from the MICASE Physical Sciences and Engineering
Division. In the USA a colloquium typically indicates an invited talk of some kind, with
the audience consisting mainly of students and faculty members—this one was attended
by about 100. And in this case, there are two introductions!
TASK 1. Listen to the first, following along in the transcript. Listen again and then
answer the questions that follow.
Click here to listen

S1: this lecture uh, we are very pleased that the Undergraduate Mathematics Society, has
uh sponsored uh this lecture uh to uh, uh explain about the solution of what is perhaps
the, oldest unsolved problem in mathematics, and uh i want to remind everyone that there
is a reception following the, lecture in the mathematics atrium which is uh in the south
atrium in uh, this building <SS LAUGH> that way and up one left, so i'd like to introduce
to you uh Polly McMahon the President of the Undergraduate Mathematics Society who
will introduce our colleague Tom Hales.

A. Name of the person who will deliver the lecture: __________________________


B. Name of the person who will introduce the lecturer: ________________________
C. Why is she given a prominent role? _____________________________________
D. The first speaker does not introduce himself. Who do you think he is? _________
E. Apart from introducing the undergraduate, the speaker does three other things.
The first two are listed. What is the third?
1. announce the sponsorship
2. indicate that the topic will be fascinating
3. _____________________________________

Finally, we need to pay attention to the language. Immediately, we can note that
speaker gets off to a “false start.” He says “this lecture, uh” but then starts again with
“we are very pleased….” This suggests that he hasn’t a prepared script but is
speaking impromptu or from notes.

F. What other evidence of informality can you detect? ________________________

On the other hand, the speaker is not totally informal; we can notice formal phrases
like “we are very pleased that the Undergraduate Mathematics Society…” as opposed
to “I’m sure glad the undergrad math society….”

G. Can you find a couple of others? _______________________________________

TASK 2. The second speaker now begins her introduction by quoting <READING> the
titles of several articles referring to the mathematical proof he discovered and which will
be the main subject of his keynote lecture. Listen to this second introduction as you
follow along in the transcript. Listen again and then answer the questions.
Click here to listen

S2: a few articles published in the last few months, <READING>packing challenge
mastered at last. U-of-M professor solves four-hundred-year-old math riddle.
mathematics proves what the grocer always knew. Kepler's orange stacking problem
squashed. mathematician proves that shops know how to stack fruit. Hales solves the
oldest problem in discrete geometry.</READING> who would have thought that a
mathematical proof could receive so much media coverage? well the coverage may be
unusual but it's far from undeserved.

A. What does the undergrad mean by “articles” here? _________________________


B. Maybe we can infer some information from these titles: is there any recurring
metaphor or class of words describing what the mathematical proof might be
about? ____________________________________________________________

Let’s find out something more about “Kepler’s conjecture” which is basically the
answer to the following question: “What arrangement of equal spheres takes up the
least space?” Visit the webpage below:

Kepler experimented with the problem and concluded that an arrangement known as the face centred cubic
packing, a pattern favoured by fruit sellers, could not be bettered. This statement has become known as
"Kepler's conjecture" or simply the sphere packing problem.

Retrieved August 2004 from: http://www.math.pitt.edu/~thales/kepler98/

C. Can you now explain the general meaning of the following headlines? Can you
find a pun (a play on words) in the last one?
1. mathematics proves what the grocer always knew
2. mathematician proves that shops know how to stack fruit
3. Kepler's orange stacking problem squashed
D. In two of the articles the same piece of news is given a different treatment—more
accurate and objective. Since a mathematical proof does not usually “receive so
much media coverage”, which particular aspect of this mathematical finding has
attracted the media’s attention in this case?

1. U-of-M professor solves four-hundred-year-old math riddle

2. Hales solves the oldest problem in discrete geometry.

Go to the following webpage and find information about a similar type of challenge: the
“Millennium Problems”, or the seven classical unresolved mathematical problems.
http://www.claymath.org/millennium/

Leicher & Swales (2003) have put forward a variety of reasons for speakers referring
to this type of media coverage or outside sources: “for analysis, to enliven the
discussion, to relate the academic world to the real world, to exert their authority or
undermine other’s, or to display their own knowledge.”

E. What is, in your opinion, the reason for this second speaker to introduce all these
references? ________________________________________________________

TASK 3. Since this is a formal presentation, the second speaker provides an accurate
report of Prof. Hales’ career so far. Can you complete the blank spaces below with the
information given? What would be the equivalent degree and academic rank in your
country?
Click here to listen

S2: an expert in representation theory, analysis, algebra and physics, Dr Hales received
his _________ and __________ degrees at _____________ in nineteen __________. his
_______ at ___________ in ___________ under the Harold W Dodds Honorific
Fellowship, he then went on to the _______________________________________ to do
_____________________ research. and then to ______________, where he was an
___________________ for two years under the National Science Foundation Fellowship.
he completed the ______________________________ at the ______________________
in the following year. he was an ___________________ at the _____________________
from ___________________ to __________________. in ____________________ he
came to the ___________________________ as an _________________. here he's a
member of the ________________________, and chair of the
___________________________. he has won the College of Literature Science and the
Arts _____________________ Award and the ___________________ Award for
_________________________.

YEAR PLACE ACADEMIC RANK EQUIVALENT


Undergraduate, BS, or
bachelor’s degree; graduate,
1982 ____________ MS, or master’s degree

_____ Princeton

Math Sciences
Research Inst.

1989 ____________

_____ Institute for


Advanced Study

_____ ____________ Assistant Professor

_____ Michigan

_____ ____________
Member of…
Chair of….
Winner of…(1)
(2)
TASK 4. Strictly speaking, Prof. Hales has just found the proof of a problem that
“grocers always knew” and “that seems simple at first glance.” Therefore, the speaker
feels it necessary to transmit to the audience the enormous difficulty inherent in his
finding. First, listen to how she goes about it. Then listen again as you read along, and try
to answer the question.
Click here to listen

S2: he's (Prof. Hales) here today with the proof of a problem that has stumped
mathematics for four hundred years. a problem that seems simple at first glance.
examined more closely, one can see that a proof of such a problem, actually involves
over five hundred possible spher- over five thousand possible spherical configurations.
thousands of crucial details. two hundred and fifty pages of formal proof. one hundred
and fifty variables, combined into one equation. ten years of work. <SS LAUGH> a five-
step strategy. three gigabytes of computer memory. a talented, graduate student assistant.
and one brilliant associate professor. ladies and gentlemen, Mr Tom Hales

A. She uses something as scientific, accurate and objective as numbers. Basically,


there are two types of numerical justifications of his feat. Can you describe them?
1. ____________________________________________________________
2. ____________________________________________________________

TASK 5. Throughout the different parts of this twofold introduction, the main speaker is
referred to in a variety of ways. In fact, he is not referred to in the same way twice! Why
do you suppose this is? (Italics indicate written references.) _______________________
________________________________________________________________________

“an expert in representation


theory, analysis, algebra and
physics, Dr Hales…” Hales
“Our solves …
colleague
Tom Hales”
Mathematician
proves that…

U of M
Professor
solves … “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr
Mathematics Tom Hales.”
proves…

TASK 6. Questions for discussion


1. What is your overall impression of these two introductions? Are they more or less
formal than you would expect?
2. Do you have similar events at your institution? Compare and contrast.
3. Now that you have heard these two introductions from a colloquium at an
American university, read or listen to a couple more and compare. Which do you
prefer and why? Here is a list from which to choose:

! Provost Public Lecture: COL999MX036 (70 in audience.)


Listen View transcript
! Women’s Studies Guest Lecture: COL605MX039 (200 in audience)
1. Introduction of the benefactor of the lecture series
Listen View transcript
2. Introduction of the main speaker
Listen View transcript
! Problem Solving Colloquium: COL999MX059 (15 in audience)
Listen View transcript
TEACHER NOTES

TASK 1.

A. Name of the person who will deliver the lecture: Tom Hales
B. Name of the person who will introduce the lecturer: Polly McMahon
C. Why is she given a prominent role? She is the President of the Undergraduate
Mathematics Society… the organization which sponsors this lecture.
D. First speaker is chair of the math department, a faculty member
E. Invite the audience to the reception.
F. Other evidence of informality: filler pauses (uh), informal way of giving
directions to the atrium ( “that way and up one left”), and conversational
features such as “so….”
G. Formal register “perhaps,” “I’d like to introduce you to…”; not many
contractions (only 1); fully pronounced word endings (no elisions).

TASK 2.

A. Informal (media, headlines). Less formal print media, intended for lay
audience: newspapers, magazines, internet? (not professional journals)
B. packing, grocer, orange, stacking, squashed, shops, fruit.

By visiting the webpage, students become aware of the existence of different degrees
of formality either in the headlines or in the scientific literature :

The sphere packing problem Kepler’s conjecture


Stacking Arrangement
Mathematics Discrete geometry

C. Several of the headlines hint at the superiority of logic and practical


knowledge over theoretical and abstract approaches. Pun: orange (problem)
squashed / problem (about stacking oranges) solved.

D. These two headlines underline the significance of the findings by referring to


the number of years the problem has remained unsolved.

Webpage synopsis:
The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts (CMI) has named seven Prize
Problems. The Scientific Advisory Board of CMI selected these problems, focusing on
important classic questions that have resisted solution over the years. The Board of
Directors of CMI designated a $7 million prize fund for the solution to these problems,
with $1 million allocated to each.
Retrieved August 2004 from: http://www.claymath.org/millennium/

There are further references in this colloquium to Prof. Andrew Wiles and his making headlines by solving
“the most famous problem in the history of Mathematics”: Fermat’s Last Theorem. Kepler’s sphere
packing problem is described by Prof. Hales as “a worthy succesor” for this notorious challenge, thereby
underlining its significance.
E. Basically the speaker tries to “relate the real world to the academic world”
and underline the “unusual” presence of this type of event in the media. In
this way she can both emphasize the importance of Prof. Hales’ discovery
and provide a general introduction to the subject before proceeding to a
more specific position.
Undoubtedly, these references also enliven the discussion—they’re colorful
and stimulating and everyone can talk about commonsensical things.

TASK 3.

Full transcript:
S2: an expert in representation theory, analysis, algebra and physics, Dr Hales received
his M-S and B-S degrees at Stanford in nineteen eighty-two. his PhD at Princeton in
eighty-six under the Harold W Dodds Honorific Fellowship, he then went on to the
Mathematical Sciences Research Institute to do post-doctoral research. and then to
Harvard, where he was an assistant professor for two years under the National Science
Foundation Fellowship. he completed the post-doctoral research fellowship at the
Institute for Advanced Study in the following year. he was an assistant professor at the
University of Chicago from nineteen ninety to nineteen ninety-three. in ninety-three he
came to the University of Michigan as an associate professor. here he's a member of the
math department Executive Committee, and chair of the Undergraduate Scholarship
Committee. he has won the College of Literature Science and the Arts Excellence In
Education Award and the Henry Russell Award for nineteen ninety-nine.

1982 Stanford MS, master’s degree, graduate student; BS,


bachelor’s degree, undergraduate
1986 Princeton PhD
Math Sci Res Inst Post-doctoral research
1987-8 Harvard Assistant Professor
1989 Inst. Adv. Study Post-doctoral research fellowship
1990-93 Chicago Assistant Professor
1993 Michigan Associate Professor
1999 Michigan Member Math Dept Exec Cmte/Chair of the
Undergraduate Scholarship Committee/Winner of Excellence in Education Award
and the Henry Russell Award.

TASK 4.

1) Problem unresolved “for four hundred years” (chronology)


2) involves… over five thousand, thousands of… two hundred and fifty…ten
years… ( huge amounts of time, resources, equipment, manpower devoted to
finding the proof)
TASK 5.
Students might suggest it relates to level of formality or level of generality, but we
think it’s really just for variety’s sake. A similar abundance of terms to refer to the
word “problem” (e.g. challenge, riddle, mathematical proof, conjecture) seems to
confirm this idea.

N.B. A search in the University of Michigan Online Directory showed that the “official”
name of this professor of the LS&A Mathematics Department is Thomas C. Hales.

TASK 6.
Don’t limit the discussion to level of formality alone. You could discuss deference,
respect, length, detail, audience, and any number of other factors.

The three suggested events:


! Provost Public Lecture: COL999MX036 (70 in audience).
This introduction is quite lengthy and formal. The provost talks about the
challenges that face faculty, students, and staff at the University of Michigan, and
some of the issues that she faces as provost.
! Women’s Studies Guest Lecture: COL605MX039 (200 in audience).
There are four introductions in this event, but we present only two:
1. The daughter of the benefactor of the lecture series introduces the
benefactor, her mother.
2. The speaker introduces herself (very briefly) before introducing the main
speaker.
In the first introduction (not included here), the speaker introduces the event,
herself, and the benefactor’s daughter. The second introduction is number 1
above. In the third introduction (not included), the benefactor introduces her sister
and niece (in the audience) and the topic of the lecture. The fourth introduction is
number 2 above. And then…the main speaker introduces her speech!
! Problem Solving Colloquium: COL999MX059 (15 in audience). There is a short
introduction of the main speaker. The introducer and main speaker are obviously
friends.

R. C. Simpson, S. L. Briggs, J. Ovens, and J. M. Swales. (2002) The Michigan Corpus of


Academic Spoken English. Ann Arbor, MI: The Regents of the University of Michigan